Overnight, Taylor McQuillin went from being the youngest member of the Arizona softball pitching staff to one of its oldest.
By all accounts, McQuillin appears ready to take on the task of seniority, even if she’s only a junior by class.
The two-time All-Pac-12 honoree will lead a staff made up almost exclusively in newcomers. Head coach Mike Candrea expressed certainty that she’s ready for the job.
“She knows she’s going to get the ball a lot, and she’s got a lot of confidence,” Candrea said during the team’s first media availability of the new year. “I’m very impressed and very pleased with where she’s at right now.”
As a sophomore, McQuillin was the team’s dependable No. 2 starter behind senior ace Danielle O’Toole. The Mission Viejo, Calif. native appeared in 26 games, posting a 16-4 record to go with a 1.92 ERA.
By almost any standard, McQuillin’s sophomore year was a major success.
However, it ended on a disappointing note.
In Game 3 of the Tucson Super Regionals between Arizona and Baylor, McQuillin replaced O’Toole in the seventh inning with the Wildcats leading 5-3.
Three outs away from Oklahoma City, McQuillin couldn’t seal the deal. A three-run homer by the Bears’ Shelby McGlaun gave Baylor a 6-5 lead.
The Wildcats couldn’t respond in bottom of the inning and were shut out of the Women’s College World Series.
The loss sticks with McQuillin to this day.
“I think it still sits there in everyone’s mind, but it’s in the past now,” McQuillin said. “We’ve got to move forward from it. The biggest thing is to come out strong and stay strong throughout the year.”
McQuillin is the only returning pitcher from last year’s Arizona staff with game experience.
The Wildcats will also rely on junior Tamara Statman, a pitcher/designated player, Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Alyssa Denham, Purdue transfer Gina Snyder, and freshmen Hanah Bowen and Taylor Gilmore.
Candrea has seen a marked maturity within McQuillin between the end of last season and the early going of this year.
“Unfortunately in this game you have to go through the trials and tribulations to mature whether it’s mentally or emotionally,” Candrea said. “I think that definitely helped her establish herself and her foundation for this year.”
McQuillin is spending the early practices to get a feel for the new bullpen.
In addition to the new faces on the mound, Candrea brought on former Arizona All-American and national champion Taryne Mowatt to guide the pitching staff.
“It gives the entire team that younger, fresh mind,” McQuillin said. “Her and Caitlin [Lowe] are pretty recent out of knowing what it’s like to play at the College World Series and winning national championships. They still have that drive and that want-to-win competitiveness.”
A national championship has eluded the Wildcats since 2007, Mowatt’s senior year, and Arizona has missed Oklahoma City altogether the last seven seasons.
McQuillin will get her shot to change that, and no one will be cheering her on more than O’Toole, now the pitching coach at the University of San Diego.
Before leaving UA, O’Toole gave McQuillin some parting words.
“We had a heart-to-heart before she left, and she said, ‘Keep this team going, keep it strong,’” McQuillin said. “We don’t want everything to dissipate and fall off and have to rebuild. We want to continue that rebuilding process and bring everybody with us.”